by Cathy Hearn
Technical Director, Slalom
Italian Federation of Canoe & Kayak
The field of competitors for the 2004 Olympic Slalom events has been selected from an original group of more than 160 athletes from nearly 70 countries, with qualifying opportunities at the 2003 World Championships in Augsburg, Germany, and at the 2004 World Cup on the Olympic Course in Athens. The International Canoe Federation has worked in concert with established whitewater nations to develop athletes and programs from at least 40 nations new to whitewater Olympic slalom competition, resulting in qualification race participation by nations such as Togo, Thailand, Algeria, India, Taipei, Kazakhstan and Romania, to mention but a few.
The 2004 Athens Olympic Slalom course is bordered
by a spectacular steep curved wedge of spectator stands which afford clear views
of the course from all sections. The atmosphere during the Olympic competition
will surely be charged with excitement and noise, the cheering of the spectators
mixing with the music of the whitewater, and augmented by the lively and expert
commentary of announcers Lamar Sims and Kent Ford, both from Colorado.
Approaching the whitewater center in Athens, the
first impressions are of a green oasis, the scent of moving water on the wind,
and then the view of the turquoise jewel that is the paddling complex. Close
up, the breeze carries salt spray, and the course appears luminescent and alive
in its movement. The water has the most fantastic ocean feel in river form-- the
features are somewhat soft while at the same time packing substantial punch, and
some of them are very weird, with the variable water and boils of a big river in
flood. Best of all for new paddlers and veterans alike is the comfortable
climate, warm water, and safe nature of the course.
The real beauty of artificial courses like the one built for the Athens 2004 Olympics is the legacy of whitewater that carries on beyond the event. A course like this one, and the one in Sydney, constructed in areas with no natural whitewater, make both the active and spectator versions of whitewater sport accessible to many people who otherwise might never experience the beauty, joy, challenge and reward of playing in and around rivers.
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Last updated: January 18, 2006